The Official Lottery

An official lottery is a public lottery organized by an individual state, or by a consortium of states. There are two major lottery games in the United States, Mega Millions and Powerball, which are offered in nearly every jurisdiction that operates a lottery.

The History of the Lottery

A lottery is a form of gambling, in which participants wager money on the outcome of a drawing. It is similar to keno, scratch cards, and video lottery terminals.

Originally, lotteries were used to fund a variety of government services. Early US states financed public schools and military services partly with lottery funds. During the Revolutionary War, for example, the Continental Congress tried to use a lottery to finance the war.

The Politics of the Lottery

In the nineteen-sixties, as America faced growing demands for social services and a looming budget crisis, the country’s political class began a search for new revenue. For politicians who lacked the appetite for raising taxes, the lottery seemed to offer a perfect solution: it would provide large amounts of income without increasing state tax rates.

But the lottery was not as good for the economy as it was supposed to be, and it was bad for poor people. Rather than putting money in the pockets of citizens, lottery revenue went to support a wide range of government programs–mostly education, but often also public parks, elder care, and veteran aid.

In addition, the high-profile campaigns that accompanied these programs were misleading, wildly inflating the impact of lottery money on state finances. In California, for example, where a lottery was passed after a campaign claimed it would help fund schools, the lottery brought in just five per cent of the school budget in its first year.